Ira Rabin

The lecture will discuss the sensitive issue of authentication of the objects of cultural heritage of immense cultural and monetary value if certified to be genuine. It will be made clear that material analysis alone, especially its non-destructive variety conducted by specialists in a single technique, can not prove that the object is genuine. The best material analysis can do, after all appropriate tests have been conducted, is to announce that nothing has been found that contradicts the assumption of genuineness. Moreover, the results of the natural analysis can never be used as the only justification of the authentication in the cases of composite objects such as manuscripts or epigraphs. A certification always requires the expertise of the specialist in the field (be it a historian, paleographer, epigrapher, etc.), whose judgment can be at the most supported by appropriate material analysis.

The most effective approach for testing suspicious artifacts has been established by the forensic science. Here, not the authentication, but the determination of the forgery stands in the focus of the work. Investigation protocols developed within 150 years and constantly improved include a clear statement of the analysis purpose and the definition of plausibility criteria for the possible outcome. The younger sister of the forensics, archaeometry has to overcome additional obstacles such as the heterogeneity of historic material coupled with the scarcity of suitable reference material. Over the last two decades the popularity of archaeometric studies has increased enormously, with the industry-driven development of so-called non-destructive technologies (NDT) that do not require sampling. Further technological developments led to the appearance of NDT methods with extremely small interaction windows (µm range). Each of these methods has limitations that have to be carefully considered when planning the tests of a heterogeneous and often partially degraded historical material.  This approach is inherently multi-instrumental, therefore archaeometric and forensic departments unite a number of specialists who work together defining the tasks and the methods involved for their successful completion.


Dr. Ira Rabin studied chemistry at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem.
Between 1979 and 1983 she worked as a student and later as a staff member of the Conservation Department of the Jewish National and University Library (JNUL), with specialization paper and parchment conservation. In 1983 she returned to the Hebrew University of Jerusalem to continue her studies in physical chemistry. In 1987 she moved to Berlin where she obtained a PhD degree in physical chemistry at the Free University of Berlin in collaboration with the Max-Planck-Society. Until 2003 she worked in basic research in cluster physics in the Fritz-Haber-Institute of the Max-Planck-Society and continued her research on parchment but as a hobby.
Since 2003 her main research interest is dedicated to the Dead Sea Scrolls.
In the years 2005 – 2006 she worked in Israel as a scientific advisor for the Israel Antiquities Authority and the Jewish National Library.
2007 – 2010 she coordinated the international Dead Sea Scrolls project.
Currently, she is senior scientist at the Federal Institute of Material Research and Testing (BAM) in Berlin and the Centre for the Studies of Manuscript Cultures (CSMC) in Hamburg, Germany.